6th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Lv: 13:1-2,44-46; Mk 1:40-45) “Unjustly Labelled Lepers” PDF Version
Homily for the 6th Sunday of OT, Year B (2018): Lv: 13:1-2,44-46; Mk 1:40-45
To be a leper in Ancient Israel meant to endure a life of forced isolation and continual ridicule. Leprosy was understood as a punishment from God, on account of one’s own sins or due to some generational sin that had been passed down by one’s ancestors.
The punishment for having leprosy was exacted in forcing lepers to live in isolated groups, far away from the remainder of the People of Israel, and with the mandate to shout at anyone who came near to warn them that they were a leper.
Their punishment was also found in being excluded from participating in the liturgical life of the Chosen People, be it any form of public prayer, sacrifice or communal festival such as the celebration of Passover, because the leper was considered to be ritually impure, and it was believed they would spread that impurity to anyone and anything they touched.
It was a great personal, communal and familial tragedy when someone was found to have leprosy, as the one they loved was now by law to be shunned and outcast, with no exceptions being made.
When Jesus began to heal lepers, he was fulfilling the numerous prophecies in the Old Testament that speak of the disappearance of leprosy as being one of the blessings of the messianic times, meaning those who believed that Jesus was the Christ would have found these healings as but another sign that indeed the Messiah had come and one of the great forms of public shame and isolation that plagued God’s people were coming to an end.
The leper who approached Christ and asked for healing is a powerful example of the faithful and confident prayer of a man who was not ashamed to beg for God’s help, confident that, if God wishes, he can be freed from his disease and all the consequences that came with it. St. Bede said of this leper that “this man prostrated himself on the ground, as a sign of humility and shame, to teach each of us to be ashamed of the stains of his life. But shame should not prevent us from confessing: the leper showed his wound and begged for healing. If you will, he says, you can make me clean: that is, he recognized that the Lord had the power to cure him” (St Bede, In Marci Evangelium Expositio).
Our Lord’s interactions with lepers would be what would inspire the First Christians and subsequent generations of disciples to no longer fear those with such diseases but to nurture and accept them, even at the cost of bearing the diseases of those they served, as was the case in the great St. Damien of Molokai who, after many years of ministering in a leper colony on one of the Hawaiian islands, became a leper and died among his outcast brethren.
Leprosy in now among those disease that can be readily and inexpensively cured by modern medicine, and as such the relevance of today’s gospel reading may strike us as applicable to a former age but not our modern times. But if we look around our world, we will realize that many are still considered as lepers, in so far as they seen as unwanted, undesirable, and expendable.
Take for example a news story that came out of the Nordic island nation of Iceland last year. It was reported by CBS that Iceland is the world leader in eradicating Down Syndrome births, though a more truthful way of saying this is that Iceland has adopted a eugenics mentality in assuring that all children conceived with Down Syndrome will be aborted after pre-natal screening. (http://www.nationalreview.com/article/450509/down-syndrome-iceland-cbs-newss-disturbing-report).
Meanwhile in France, the State Council banned from their airwaves a video featuring children with Down syndrome talking about their happy lives, out of concern that the smiles of these joyful children would “disturb the conscience of those who had lawfully made different personal life choices” or in other words, because seeing them happy would upset those who had aborted their Down syndrome children. (http://www.nationalreview.com/article/450509/down-syndrome-iceland-cbs-newss-disturbing-report).
Is this not a modern and horrific way that certain children are now being seen as akin to the lepers of the ancient world, that these little ones are seen to have something terrible wrong with them and are not simply to be separated from the general population, but should rather be denied the right to life and to experience all that comes from being part of blessings and challenges that come from being part of family, community and culture?
In a time when kindness, tolerance, acceptance and love are proclaimed as the most important characteristics of the modern age, many continue to be rejected, isolated and unloved, to the point of denying their chance to exist.
I for one will testify that when I see or am blessed to get to know a child or adult with Down syndrome, that this becomes an encounter with one of those little ones to whom Jesus promised the Kingdom of Heaven. In fact, any child or adult with Down Syndrome who are baptized, we discover true saints in our midst, since they have been washed clean of Original Sin and will never commit Mortal Sin in this life, meaning they are already experiencing the life of grace that one will know in its fullness in the heavenly kingdom and so become signs and witnesses to the saving power of God’s love.
This is not to say that these children and adults will not also experience many trials in this life and that those who care for them will also suffer alongside them, we know this to be certain, but through their trials they will also inspire us to accept our own crosses and to learn from them how God is teaching us to be more compassionate, merciful and loving to them and anyone who now bears some stigma that would include them among the unjustly labelled lepers of the modern age.
Lord Jesus, cleanse our minds of any prejudices and lies of the evil one that cause us to see others as lepers. Help us Lord to love them as you did, bringing healing and joy into their lives and allowing them bring your loving presence into our midst.